Top 11 Prep Tips for Long Range Cruising: Getting ready for cruising usually involves endless lists and a dizzying amount of tasks to check off. It can get overwhelming very easily, and it can make you wonder if you've lost your mind. Most of what needs to get done can be broken down into 11 categories, which makes it seem a little easier to tackle.
1. Communications You may be casting off, but you’re not totally unplugging. Having working radios onboard is critical for weather information, safety, and of course, staying connected to fellow cruisers. Make sure your SSB, VHF, EPIRB, and passage tracking are all working and up to date. These are your lifelines to the world outside your vessel.
2. Paperwork This is one of those things that often gets overlooked until the last minute and can bite you in the end. Research visa requirements, fees, pet regulations, and passports long before you cast off. Bureaucracy moves slower than a sailboat drifting in the doldrums, so leave time to figure out your paperwork and get it done well before you plan to depart. Offices can have long lines and long processing times that might make you miss a weather window. Be organized, and make copies.
3. Provisioning This is one of those things people think about the most and really requires the least amount of brain power. Here’s a little secret: People eat food all over the world. It’s true! So unless you are planning for a transoceanic crossing of several weeks at sea, you don’t have to sweat it. Make a list of treats you can only get in your home port (think good chocolate, pesto, special cooking oils, and organic canned items) and stock those things. Shopping in new places is part of the thrill of cruising, and just about every place on earth has rice, beans, and other basics.
4. Medical This is another one you don’t want to leave until the last minute. Acquiring a solid medical kit can take time, depending on your relationship with your local physician. If you have insurance, there may be limits on how much of a prescription you can acquire ahead of time to stock up. Even some over-the-counter meds, such as certain allergy medicines, have purchase limits. Start early, and be mindful of expiration dates. Also keep in mind that many common meds can be purchased more easily and cheaply in other countries. Finally, a good medical kit is just dead weight if you don’t have the training and know how to use it properly. Take some classes, do your homework; someone’s life might depend on it.
5. Plumbing Ah yes, nothing ruins your tropical paradise faster than the head jamming up. Get to know your throne before you go. Get your hands on a manual. Buy the spare parts. Then buy a few more. And when all else fails, have a designated bucket stashed somewhere just in case.
6. Mechanical We all know that the iron genny is a critical member of the crew. You might find good mechanics in far flung places, but you won’t find them out in the deep blue. It’s up to you to know how to troubleshoot and repair your (big boat and dinghy) engines. Taking a class or learning by doing can be time and money well spent. Make sure you have the right spare parts, oils, and tools to get the jobs done.
7. Electrical So many systems on your cruising boat, from your instruments to your radio to your GPS, depend on your electrical system humming along happily. Know what your batteries need to stay in top condition, and make sure you understand that “butt connector” is not the latest dance move. Manuals, a good boat electronic system book, and lots of hands-on time will pay off in the end. Better to learn it now at port than in the dark on a rolling boat.
8. Entertainment/School/Work Many people think they will have loads of free time on their hands and wonder how they’ll fill it all up. Fact is, you’ll be just as busy as you were on land, but in different ways. Still for rainy days and long watches, it’s nice to have some good reading on the ready, games, audiobooks and TED Talks downloaded, apps selected, and any portable hobbies stashed and ready. If work is following in your wake, make sure your contacts understand the loosey goosey nature of time and deadlines out at sea. And if you have little swabbies onboard, getting your schooling and playing items in ship shape will take up more time and space than you imagine.
9. Sailing To sail your boat; this is why you’re out there right? Standing and running rigging should be inspected and tuned up, sails should be checked over carefully, and winches need their spa day too. Chafe and wear are the enemies, so regular inspections should become routine and not just something you do before you initially leave. Flaws in your rigging and sails are silent and can quickly become catastrophic. Know how things should look and know what to look for.
10. Safety Safety encompasses such a huge array of things to think about from life rafts to PFDs to boom preventers. Aside from the obvious ones that keep you upright and dry, find the safety issues hiding in the everyday items on your boat. Your anchoring system is also a critical part of your safety aboard. There’s nothing worse than being roused from your sweet sleep by the sound of your hull going crunch on the rocks. Unlike rice and beans, this is the area where it makes sense to stock up and pay careful attention.
11. Fellow Cruisers One of your best resources in all of these areas is other cruisers. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to those who are out there now (via social media) or those who have been there and done that. Fellow cruisers have the most up-to-date information and the wisdom of trial and error. The most important tip is to reach out to the amazing community you’re about to enter and learn as much as you can.
About the Author: Cindy Wallach and her family live aboard on their St. Francis 44 catamaran on Annapolis’s Back Creek and plan in the not-so-distant future to cast their dock lines off again. Visit zachaboard.blogspot.com to read Cindy’s blog.